Helmerich and Payne workers kidnapped from Ecuadorean oil field

Friday, October 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- Ten foreigners, including six Americans, were kidnapped from an oil field in the Amazon jungle and flown by helicopter to neighboring Colombia by an armed band claiming to be Colombian rebels, military officials said.

But in Colombia, a spokesman for the leftist rebel group denied it was responsible for Thursday's hostage-taking. There were also conflicting reports of the number of hostages taken.

Ecuadorean military officials said masked gunmen seized six Americans, a Chilean, an Argentine and two Frenchmen before dawn in the El Coca region, 150 miles southeast of the capital Quito.

Three of the abducted Americans are from Oregon-based Erickson Air Crane Co., the U.S. State Department said. Two other Americans were drilling rig employees from Helmerich and Payne, an Oklahoma-based drilling company, said Steve Mackey, vice president and general counsel for the Tulsa firm. He declined to identify the two employees.

The kidnappers claimed to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Colombia's largest guerrilla group, a military communique said.

Ecuadorean Vice President Pedro Pinto said the group had claimed the kidnapping was in "reprisal for Plan Colombia" -- an anti-drug trafficking initiative backed by $1.3 billion in U.S. aid.

But rebel spokesman Carlos Antonio Lozada said "I can assure you with total security that the FARC has nothing to do with this incident."

FARC rebels, whose field commanders operate with substantial autonomy, have had to backpedal on similar denials in the past.

Last month, a guerrilla hijacked a commuter plane and forced it down at a FARC-held southern airport. The group initially denied the rebel belonged to their organization, but later conceded that he did.

Ecuador's military said that the helicopter was detected flying near Ecuador's jungle town of Lago Agrio Thursday morning before passing over the San Miguel River into Colombia.

There were conflicting details about the kidnapping.

Ecuador's military identified the Americans as Dennis Correy, Steve Derry, Jason Wavey, David Bradley, Ron Sanders, and Arnold Arfold. The Frenchmen were listed as Jean Louis Froidurot and Jany Marcelin, and were identified as the pilots of the helicopter. The Chilean and Argentine were identified respectively as German Shultz and Juan Rodriguez.

Pinto, however, said there were only nine kidnap victims, and that one of them was believed to be an Ecuadorean.

In Washington, a State Department official said at least 10 but probably as many as 25 people were believed to have been seized, including five Americans. He said some 15 heavily-armed men are thought to have been involved.

At least three of the five Americans are pilots and one of them was ordered by the kidnappers to fly the captives out, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, local media reports in New Zealand said that one of the kidnap victims was from that country.

The oil field, operated by Spanish energy giant Repsol YPF SA, lies in Ecuador's northern territory, which borders Colombia's southern state of Putumayo, the heart of Colombia's cocaine-producing region.

Ecuador's military had been beefing up its presence along its northern jungle border with Colombia, anticipating that stepped-up military engagements and coca crop eradication from Plan Colombia could push that country's conflict across the border.